11/25/22

Our scripture this morning is Matthew 6:25‭-‬34.

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Jesus pairs this teaching with His lesson about money and possessions for good reason. He teaches us not to obsess over our food, clothing and lifestyle. In verse 32 He warns and comforts us, saying “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.”

He is not saying “don’t work for what you need” and He is definitely not saying “don’t worry about those who have needs they can’t meet”. What Jesus asks is that we not let our desires for things like these interfere with our connection to God and each other. He reminds us that like all of creation, we are only here temporarily and that God has an eternal plan for everything.

Jesus closes His lesson with the wise words “don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (v. 34). We often let these issues affect us in ways that block our relationship with our Heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters. If we focus on what Jesus has taught us and the gifts we have to help each other, we can all work together for the life everlasting we are promised.

Gracious God, we are grateful for all You have provided us. Help us to see that we are all Your children and to use Your blessings for the work we are called to accomplish. Amen.

11/24/22

Our scripture this morning is Psalm 95:1-7.

Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!

In the United States today is designated as Thanksgiving Day. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a national day of thanksgiving to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution. Later, President Abraham Lincoln took steps towards designating it a permanent federal holiday. (mountainvernon.org).  It is important now as then that we recognize the role of God in our lives and in our world.

We give God thanks and praise for His love in creating us at all. Through His will and His word everything that exists was made. God gave us free will to be able to choose for ourselves. Sadly, human history records the number of times we have failed each other, not loving and caring for one another as He intended.

Today let us each examine ourselves and find ways to be more thankful for God’s blessings. Let us share His love with everyone, actively caring in an often cold and unfeeling world. May we be the face of Jesus to those who desperately need the help we can provide through the gifts God has given us. Happy Thanksgiving!

Loving Lord, You call us to give thanks through our praise and our action. May we go in Your name to make a difference as Jesus taught. Amen.

11/23/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭19‬-‭24.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

Jesus spoke often about money and material possessions. His lessons focused on the fact that none of this will mean anything in eternity and we must not let wealth keep us from a relationship with God and each other. There are two striking examples of this in the Gospel of Luke which show both sides of the issue.

In Luke 18:18-23 we hear the story of the Rich Young Ruler who said he had kept the Law all his life, but was unable to let go of his money and follow Jesus. His love of money was greater than His love for God. Contrast this with the story of Zacchaeus, found in Luke 19:1-10. A hated tax collector confesses Jesus as Lord, makes restitution for his ill-gotten gains and also donates to the poor. Each of these men were in a similar situation but the one who had followed the Law was unwilling to follow Jesus, while the sinner repented. Each of us must make this choice for ourselves.

Money is merely one example of the things that can separate us from God. Anything that prevents us from having a full and loving relationship with God and each other is a stumbling block to our faith. We must look for the things in life that keep us from truly connecting with our Heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters, and work to remove those obstacles.

Loving Lord, we are sorry for the things we allow to interfere with our connection with You and one another. Help us to let go of earthly things and care for everyone as You care for us. Amen.

11/22/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭5‬-‭18.

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

I must admit any time I read the Lord’s Prayer in different words than I learned in Sunday School, it makes me pause, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we pray it together in church, I’m sometimes guilty of “babbling on” through the words as Jesus warns us in verse 7. In the spiritual practices He teaches about here, He wants us to be fully engaged – mind, heart and spirit.

He cautions us that praying and fasting are not to be done as a performance for people to see us doing them. If we want applause from people for being religious, we’ve missed the point. Jesus wants us to have a personal conversation with God through our prayer and a renewed focus on God through our fasting, in whatever form we practice it.

All of these are intended to deepen our relationship with God, and through that connection develop a deeper relationship with one another. If it’s just like reading lines from a script, then we are merely play acting our faith. God wants our love for Him and each other to be honest, and by following the path Jesus showed us, we can all live together eternally.

Gracious God, You have given us Your Word in Jesus and through the inspired writings of the faithful. Help us to make our relationships and our scripture studies personal, that we may know and share Your love. Amen.

11/21/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭1‬-‭4.

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Helping those in need is an essential part of our walk with Jesus. However, we must help in appropriate ways, not seeking recognition or reward or having ulterior motives for our action. Our giving will be blessed when we follow Christ’s example, sharing out of love.

Sometimes we give due to feelings of obligation or even guilt. God wants us to be cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7), giving not because we must, but because we can. The gifts we have received from the Father are best used to support our brothers and sisters.

God knows our every thought and action, and when we do the right thing for the right reason, we are living according to His will. Jesus helped others without considering who they were, only that they were in need. We must follow His example and share the blessings we have been given that others may know the joy we have found in Him.

Loving Lord, we are grateful for all You have given us. Lead us to use our gifts in Your name to lift each other up, that we may all live eternally with You. Amen.

11/20/22

Our scripture today is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭43‬-‭48.

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Jesus gives us a very specific command here: “love your enemies” (v. 44). That’s kind of hard for us. It’s ok to love our families and friends, even to “love one another”, but our enemies? Jesus makes us take an honest look at who our enemies are, why we are enemies, and remember that they too are God’s creation.

He shows us that God gives His gifts, like the sun and rain, to all people. He reminds us that we are no better than those we label as enemies if we love only those who love us in return. His point is that we who call Him Lord are to strive “to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (v. 48). 

We certainly can’t aspire to perfection and a loving relationship with God if we harbor hate in our hearts. Jesus opposed the Pharisees and other religious leaders because of God’s love for them. He acted for their salvation, not their destruction, and He calls us to pray for our enemies to be saved as well.

Gracious God, You created us all in Your image. Help us to see everyone as a person of worth and love them as Jesus did. Amen.

11/19/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭38‬-‭42.

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

Early Jewish law was intended to prevent violence and mayhem by offering the same punishment as the offense. It was not a call to personal vengeance but a guide for the judges to determine an appropriate sentence. While it may have been marginally effective, it wasn’t a complete deterrent. Jesus gives us a new teaching, one that is the complete opposite.

Jesus says “do not resist an evil person” (v. 39), which most of us find extremely difficult to accomplish. He teaches that anger at an offense should not lead us to hate or violence. However, I don’t believe He said we can’t defend the things that are most important to us – read John 2:13-22. We are created as thinking beings, not reacting out of animal instinct but evaluating situations before responding.

Jesus calls us to love one another first and foremost. The last line of this passage tells us to “give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (v. 42). This is the life to which Christ calls us, caring for each other as He cares for us.

Loving Lord, we want to be more like You in our thoughts and actions. Help us to see Your image in all our brothers and sisters and share the joy we have found in You. Amen.

11/18/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭31‬-‭37‬.

You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

I have been dreading discussing this passage because I myself am divorced and remarried. Am I over sharing? Perhaps, but I want to write out of honesty. I must admit I had considered skipping this passage, but that would mean missing an important lesson. I don’t want divorce itself to be the main focus but some discussion is necessary.

As we read in verse 31, it was the law in those days that a man could divorce his wife by merely notifying her. There were many things about that society, including slavery, that we have discovered are wrong. I don’t believe divorce for the convenience of either party is what God intended, nor was it to leave either party destitute. I know that God meant marriage to be for a lifetime. However, if God can forgive Peter who denied Christ and Paul who persecuted His church, I believe God will forgive those whose marriages end if they are repentant.

This passage is about vows that we make and break. Our word is important, to God and each other. Jesus teaches us not to make any oaths by things we have no control over (Heaven, earth, etc.) but to say yes or no and mean what we say. Promises we make to our brothers and sisters have meaning in the kingdom and breaking them hurts our relationships with them and with God.

Loving Lord, we are ashamed of the times we do not honor our word to You and each other. Help us to follow Christ’s example, keeping the promises we make and caring for one another as You have taught us. Amen.

11/17/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭27‬-‭30.

You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Jesus has some tough teaching for us here. His lessons cover both ends of the human behavior scale, faith and sin. In this passage He tells us how serious sin can be to our relationship with God and each other.

While He speaks of adultery and lust (which are part of coveting what we don’t have merely for our pleasure), this could apply to any sin by which we are tempted. His analogy of cutting off a body part if it causes us to sin shows how much our actions mean to God – “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (v. 30).

God wants us to be whole in our hearts and spirits, loving Him and our neighbor as we love ourselves. Sin causes us to put ourselves above everything and everyone else. We must be ready to give up sin in our lives, cutting off activities and even relationships that lead us away from God’s love and His plan for us to be saved.

Gracious God, we are sorry for the things we let interfere with our connection to You and Your creation. Help us to be strong in the face of temptation, turning to You and away from sin. Amen.

11/16/22

Our scripture this morning is ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭21‬-‭26.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.

My wife will tell you that I sometimes lose my cool in traffic, not something I’m proud of obviously but I rationalize that “it’s just me blowing off steam in the car, I don’t get out and scream at people”. However, Jesus says “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment” (v. 22). We seem to have a “scale” of sins, that some are worse than others, but in God’s eyes sin is sin.

Anger seems to be a prevalent emotion these days. There are situations in the world that deserve our righteous anger and should cause us to work for a resolution, but it seems we “waste” our anger on things that we can’t control or that really don’t matter. Jesus warns us about being angry with each other specifically.

He teaches that we should be reconciled with each other in order to be reconciled with God. In 1 John 4:20 we read “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar”. It is important that our anger does not separate us from our brothers and sisters as well as our Heavenly Father. 

Loving Lord, we are sorry for the times we let our anger override our relationship with each other. Bind us together in love that we may work for Your kingdom eternally. Amen.